It appears the worship wars in the WELS are over. And the winner is…everyone! And really, no one. Anything goes in the WELS world of worship, provided it is “done well”. We have become the Anglicans and the Roman Catholics. Roman Catholic in that the liturgy or worship has become the work of the people, and Anglican in that there is little theology behind worship, so as long as it is pretty or “done well”, anything and everything is ok. Here’s WELS President, Mark Schroeder on worship, specifically the upcoming WELS National Worship Conference: “Since worship is such an important activity in our lives as Christians, it's absolutely vital that we get it right. We need to be sure our worship is Christ-centered and biblically based. We need to be sure that our worship expresses the joy that we have in Christ and that it proclaims clearly the reason and basis for that joy. We need to plan carefully and to carry out our worship in a way that touches the hearts and lives of God's people and in a way that equips them for lives of service to him. In worship, as in anything we do as Christians, we will want to strive for excellence as we give God the glory and honor due him.”
Who puts Christ in worship? We do! Who makes worship efficacious? We do! No focus on God coming to us with his gifts in Word and Sacrament. Instead, worship is “an important activity in our lives as Christians” that we need to do correctly. Instead of the Holy Spirit working when and where He wills, we “carry out our worship in a way that touches the hearts and lives of God’s people”. Then there is the reference to the NIV translation of Ephesians 4:11-12” It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.” These passages are mangled by the NIV and are not what the original text actually says, which is something you would think the president of a Lutheran church body would know. A more exact English translation is the KJV “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Note the difference. In the NIV Christ gave these for two reasons: “to prepare God’s people for works of service” and “so that the body of Christ may be built up”. In the KJV Christ gave these servants for three reasons: “for the perfecting of the saints”, “for the work of the ministry”, and “for the edifying of the body of Christ”. The KJV is closer to the original, but in a church body that sees us doing stuff in worship instead of God giving to us, it is no surprise that the NIV was alluded to.
Pres. Schroeder goes on to say that “we will want to strive for excellence as we give God the glory and honor due him.” Yes, of course we will. However, in worship, in Lutheran worship, we are primarily passive. Our excellence is not based on our performance, it is our debasement of self in allowing God to serve us, and even that is not a work of our own. We come with nothing. We are the tax collector who only begs for mercy. God grants us mercy, grace, and forgiveness, and then we respond with our praise, thanks, and prayers, but the work is still primarily not ours but God’s. The “excellence” of our worship is not determined by the number of mistakes made by the musicians, the cleverness of the preacher, the smiles on the faces, or how we felt it went. It is determined by the faithful proclamation of Christ the Word and the administration of the Sacraments.
And again Pres. Schroeder, from the same source, the March 17, 2008 edition of Together: “In a day when so much discussion on worship is taking place, this conference will help to clarify the important principles to keep in mind as we plan and carry out our worship. It will be a means for us to unite around the timeless worship heritage and values that we share and to explore the best possible ways for us to exercise our Christian freedom in worship in ways that glorify God, proclaim the saving gospel, and touch the hearts and lives of God's people.”
The WELS enjoys principles. Don’t call their principles laws. That will only get you into trouble. Principles are carefully distinguished from laws, as in the preaching paradigm: law, gospel, application (principle).
The WELS also enjoys “Christian freedom in worship”. Yes, as we are constantly reminded, there is no ceremonial law in the New Testament. Therefore, some in WELS are taking that to its logical conclusion which is: anything goes. The oft-touted Christian freedom regarding worship tends to blur another principle, one that has been around longer than the WELS, that of lex orandi, lex credendi-the law of prayer is the law of belief. In other words, if you worship like a Baptist, you will believe like a Baptist. What you “do” in worship is not neutral. Everything has meaning. Even something as mundane as having the little kids sing from the front of church as opposed to the balcony has meaning. If the kids are up front where everyone can admire their cuteness, where is the focus? Is it on the children or the One they are singing about? All attention is on them, the message becomes secondary. If they are in the balcony, the message heard takes center stage, while those giving it, the sinful little humans, are in the background. The latter example is Lutheran, the former is not.
Again Pres. Schroeder is looking to “touch the hearts and lives of God’s people”. An admirable goal, but WE don’t do that. God does. Finding the “best possible ways” seems to be a misplaced faith in what we are doing instead of letting worship be what it is: where God comes to us.